St. Louis County wants to close loopholes in the new smoking ban, loopholes that allow people to smoke Kiss at more than 100 establishments. Some larger restaurant-bars and bowling alleys got exemptions the county says were intended for small neighborhood bars. St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley wants to change the law to put an end to what he calls “unintended consequences.”
County officials say the law was written so that neighborhood bars could be exempt. The county did not intend to hurt small businesses. If their food sales were less than 25 percent of revenue, then they would exempt.
Instead, bigger businesses found loopholes, and more than 110 establishments are exempt, and there’s another 100 or more applications pending. Dooley says it’s unacceptable.
Shawn Short, owner of BS Sports Bar and Grill in St. Ann, says his place is case in point. It’s a small neighborhood establishment on St. Charles Rock Road. It has a kitchen and a menu that Short says he’s proud of.
But liquor drives his business, which is why he’s filed for an exemption. Short says he would normally have 15 to 20 people on a Monday night happy hour, but only has one customer around 4 p.m., because he’s lost business to the bars down the street that do not sell food. People can smoke in there.
They can also smoke at Hot Shots, the chain sports bar and grill just down the road. Short says the law was not written fairly.
“Instead of forcing someone to truly make a decision and say, we’re going ‘smoke free,’ what they’ve done is said, ‘you can smoke, you just got to smoke at other places,'” said Short. “If they would have come out with this ban and said, flat out, ‘no smoking in these public places,’ it wouldn’t have put anyone else in an awkward spot.”
St. Louis County Spokesman Mack Scott says that could happen now, adding that Dooley will try to either ban smoking at all establishments, or he will try to make it tougher to get an exemption. Scott says the purpose was not to drive small businesses out of business.